[Masthead] Fair ~ 39°F  
High: 77°F ~ Low: 55°F
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Spirit of Westmar alive in alumni and friends

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An unfinished memorial stand in the Westmar Memorial Park, constructed of bricks from Dubs and Wernli Hall. The plaque reads: "This unfinished memorial, created from the bricks of Dubs and Wernli Hall, is dedicated to the task of continued education. Westmar College served this community in that task for 107 years, and while only a memory of Westmar College remains, the task of education will go on forever. Education is the only vehicle through which the world can grow in peace and understanding. To that task we commemorate this Memorial Park. Le Mars Sertoma Club. Dedicated 2004."
(Editor's note: This is the sixth day of a series taking a look, on the tenth anniversary of Westmar's last day of classes on Nov. 21, 1997, at what has happened to the buildings, how its close has continued to impact Le Mars and how people remember the institution.)

While the institution of Westmar University ceased to exist 10 years ago, the spirit that is Westmar is alive and well across the country and in the world.

Those who attended the college -- whether it was Western Union, Westmar College, Teikyo Westmar University or Westmar University -- all have a bond with the school and the values and studies that were taught there.

Keeping that spirit alive locally are the Westmar University Alumni and Friends Association and the Westmar Memorial Park, situated on part of the former campus property.

The Westmar University Alumni and Friends Association, "WAFA" for short, has its office at the Plymouth County Historical Museum. Jan (Dunbar) Kooiker of Le Mars, a graduate of Westmar College, serves as its executive director and oversees a data base that includes 13,835 alumni.

Of that number, 1,493 alumni live within a 30-mile radius of Le Mars and 4,246 alumni live in Iowa.

When the college closed, Kooiker explained, the alumni association retrieved the records from the Office of Institutional Advancement.

"They had the student data," she said. "We added the staff and faculty members to the data base we maintain."

By maintaining the data base, Kooiker is able to assist alumni in planning class reunions and special gatherings.

"For example, this year we honored the graduates of the 1990s. We also included a Westmar Chorale Reunion and a wrestlers reunion the same weekend, giving us a good attendance," she said.

That 2007 reunion ended a five-year cycle of decades reunions.

"Some alums wanted to repeat the cycle, so we're already planning for the 2008 reunion," she said. That reunion will highlight classes from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, plus the 50-year reunion of the class of 1958. The dates are Aug. 1-3, 2008.

By getting together a nucleus of local people to help in the planning, Kooiker is able to provide addresses for individuals.

"The e-mail really helps us," she said, saving both time and postage.

She has also helped alumni in Colorado, New York, and Kansas put together mini-reunions of alumni in their particular area.

Reunions have been an important part of sharing the stories of Westmar and bringing alumni back to Le Mars and the area that was once the Westmar campus. At each reunion a walking tour of the campus is included in the activities.

"The campus tours are an important part of the reunion," Kooiker said. "For those of us who live around here, we have seen the transformation and know the uses of the buildings. For those returning for the first time since the school closed, it's a shock to see what is gone and how other buildings are being used."

"The tour helps them to reminisce," she said. "We also get more information about the buildings from the alumni during those tours."

"The people find their relationships carry forward, whether the building is there or not," she said.

The WAFA office also has school memorabilia for sale. In addition to the traditional t-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs and pens, the office has yearbooks from many years as well as several special items. "Devin Stahl paid to have tapes of Westmar Chorale concerts transferred to CDs, and we now have the legal right to copy them," Kooiker said. "They were very popular with reunion members this year."

"We're helping people value their past," she said. "You don't need to be stuck in the past to value it."

Kooiker is assisted by Mary Holub who serves as communications director and newsletter editor. Both are paid employees of WAFA.

Through research, the two think they have found the school's oldest living alum -- 102-year-old Clarence "Skip" Westpahl who graduated from Western Union in 1927. In a recent article for the WAFA newsletter, Westphal said, "I am convinced that all of my success in life was largely due to the teaching I received from the professors at Western Union College." For the last 35 years, Westphal has contributed a column "True Tales to Live By" to the Fort Dodge Messenger newspaper.

Kooiker said her job "is like a scavenger hunt every day," for she never knows what request will come in the mail or by e-mail.

There are 525 active memberships in the WAFA organization. Membership fees per year are $15 for singles and $25 for couples. Officers are Paul Coffin, '76, president-elect; Leon Scott, faculty/administration 66-97; Rosemary (Jeys) Radloff, staff and class of '93; Milt Martin, faculty 63-97 and class of '53; Jeff Neary, '81; Denice Kolker, '75; and MIlt Vander Ham, '73; and retiring this year, Jane (Hansen) Brown, '75, outgoing president; and Kaylyn (Busch) Pick, '88.

Kooiker notes Westmar is also kept alive by two scholarship funds. Monies from the Westmar Endowment Fund were eventually split with the Iowa College Foundation administering the Westmar Endowment Scholarship Program and the Iowa United Methodist Foundation administering the Westmar Trust Scholarship program. Criteria for the scholarships differ, but are generated from gifts given through the years to Westmar College.

Westmar Archives

When Westmar University closed its doors in November 1997, items related to the college and history were gathered to be preserved. The items were stored in some 75 boxes in the lower level of the Charles A. Mock Library.

A home for the collection was found at the Plymouth County Historical Museum, which used funds from grant from the State Historical Society to begin organizing and preserving the former college's archives. Wayne Marty, who was a longtime faculty member at Westmar and board president of the museum at that time, helped to secure the funding.

Former Westmar librarian Millie Mandernach supervised the organization of the archives, which included yearbooks, all the student newspapers, student-faculty minutes, and things from numerous members of the faculty. Many memorabilia items -- from class pictures, caps and gowns, athletic records, uniforms, programs and more -- are now cataloged and preserved in the museum's archives room.

In a December 1999 Daily Sentinel story, Mandernach, herself a Westmar alumnus, said "I tell you there were thousands of pictures. I've put lots in boxes to take to the museum. Hopefully, people can go through them someday." And what does the archives include?

* Thousands of pictures - many, even most, of them not labeled.

* Minutes of board, faculty and staff meetings, college council.

* Publications - the Gleam, Westmar Today, catalogs, yearbooks.

* Letters to the presidents.

* Two Westy costumes.

* Faculty and alumni writings.

* Dr. Zuehl's print blocks.

* Seals of the college and the college family tree.

* Buttons, stickers, pennants, banners.

* Eagles.

* Reports from the registrars, deans, development office, library.

* Artifacts from the missionaries.

* Academic regalia.

* All kinds of uniforms.

* Quite a few Western Union things; a lot from York (which merged with Westmar College in the 1950s).

Westmar Memorial Park

Even though he didn't attend Westmar College, Le Mars resident Don Law knew there needed to be a way to remember the college.

"The idea to do a Westmar Memorial Park was mine," he said. "I said if we don't do something to remember Westmar, in 10 to 15 years everyone will say 'who was Westmar'."

Law took his idea to the Le Mars Sertoma Club, of which he is a member, and found support for the project. The club applied for and received money from Sertoma International.

"We also got $25,000 from the Edna and Edwin Danner estates, and that went a long ways to what we did there," Law said. Funding also came from the city of Le Mars Local Option Sales Tax funds.

The park is located along Tenth Street Southeast, and includes the Danner Arboretum with its many trees.

Local residents helped with the work. Ken Plueger did the brick work to put "wings" on the gate where the ironwork now says "Westmar Memorial Park," and also helped in moving the large W and U in front of the gate. He also constructed the base for the Bud Bolser sculpture.

Calvin and Clayton Kooiker assisted by moving both the bell tower and gazebo to new locations.

Sertoma Club members helped in moving the time capsule from its former plaza location to beside the Westmar Eagle, which returned to its base given by the class of 1933. The college's sundial also was placed in the park.

Plaques at the front gate show the progression of Westmar College, and other plaques identify the items in park.

Cornerstones from Thoren Hall and the seals are placed in a permanent memorial.

Bricks from Dubs and Wernli Hall, two buildings which were torn down in 2002, form an unfinished memorial in the park, with a trowel permanently embedded in the cement.

The Westmar Memorial Park was dedicated on Aug. 14, 2004, with representatives of Westmar College/University, the City of Le Mars, and Le Mars Sertoma Club speaking about the project and its significance to the Westmar family and the Le Mars community.

As alumni continue to gather through the years and recall their Westmar memories, they will also sing a song that has rang out through convocations, graduations and many gatherings:

O Westmar College, how we love thy name,

O Westmar College, thou are always and ever the same,

To those who know thee and have felt thy spell;

Oh, Westmar College, we love thee,

We love thee well.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration:

© 2016 Le Mars Daily Sentinel